Gearin’ for up tempo |

Gearin’ for up tempo

Eileen JoyceNevada Union's Cole Cooper, a power forward, takes the ball to the rack uncontested.
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The mini-break for the NU basketball teams might be just what both squads need, if you were their physical trainers.

After a month’s worth of play, there are sore knees and elbows, not to mention a few ankles that have some swelling.

With both teams ranked among the best in Sacramento and poised to compete for Metro League titles, the time off affords them not only a chance to rest aches and pains, but to take stock of roads ahead that should be anything but free and clear.

The girls program will enter next week’s league play on a high note. The Lady Miners improved their mark to 14-2 last weekend by taking the Ruby Division title of the highly-regarded West Coast Jamboree. The Miners rocked a strong field in Concord, nearly doubling Monte Vista’s output in the championship game.

“I was blown away a little bit,” NU coach Craig Strohm said of his team’s dominating performance. “I really feel that the characteristic of a quality team is when they can come back from adversity. It is easy to execute when ahead, but increasingly difficult when behind and you’ve dug yourself a hole. And in the very first game of the tournament, the girls found themselves in that exact situation.”

NU, currently ranked third in the Sacramento area in one publication, trailed by 9 points in the fourth quarter of its opening contest against Castlemont, but roared back behind the play of Nicole Sheets to post an 8- point victory.

It was the kind of victory the girls had not been able to post just one week prior against Vacaville, and the kind that Strohm had been looking for.

“Coming away with those victories in the tournament were important for us, looking ahead,” Strohm said. “Castlemont and Vallejo are very characteristic of teams we’ll see night in and night out in the Metro League – fast, athletic, up-tempo, and never-say-die.”

League foes St. Francis (14-2) and Kennedy (15-2) are the two teams ranked ahead of the Lady Miners. While NU’s girls were chewing up the competition last weekend in Concord, St. Francis was going 3-1 in a tournament in San Jose while Kennedy was posting a third-place performance in Reno.

Twice this year, NU will face those teams in back-to-back contests, beginning on the road at St. Francis Jan. 15 and Kennedy Jan. 17, then again while winding down the season, this time at home with a four-day break in between games.

“We couldn’t beat Kennedy or St. Francis last year, and to top it off, we were upset at home by Burbank, which sent us on the road for the playoffs,” Strohm said. “But this year, I think we have a growing sense of confidence that I can feel.”

Part of that confidence stems from a Lady Miners squad that does not simply claim to have depth, they flaunt it, mass substituting in waves in an attempt to run opponents right out of contests.

Sheena Zweigle was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Ruby Division tournament, while teammate Molly Heck also made the all-tournament team. Both Zweigle and Heck earned the honors despite playing the same front court position.

“We are a deep team, and that is difficult for opponents to defend because we don’t rely on any few players,” Strohm said. “In order to play well like that, you have to be very unselfish.”

While the Lady Miners try to run teams out of the gym, first-year boys coach Jeff Dellis tries to have NU’s boys team dominate games with a tempo that downshifts the pace of play at both ends of the court.

NU boys team, ranked fifth in the Sacramento area with a 10-5 record, took fifth in the San Leandro tournament last weekend. While Dellis is thankful for the opportunity to give some players a chance to nurse nagging injuries, he is also wary of what an extended layoff can do to a team’s development.

“We went twelve days without a game, and six days from Dec. 20 to Dec. 25 with no practices,” Dellis said. “For a team that depends so much on chemistry, that is just too much time away from the floor. I think if we had played NorCal-ranked Northgate right after we had won the Armijo Tournament, we would have competed with them.”

While Dellis has been busy nailing down the nuances of being the varsity boys basketball coach, his squad has been busy nailing down the nuances of meshing into what Dellis believes should be a force to be reckoned with in league play.

Offensively, the Miners are led by Tony Parilo, who Dellis said is a consistent scorer upon which the Miners can rely.

“Tony is going to give you 20 points on any given night,” Dellis said. “He may be 6-3, but he has the arms of someone who is 6-8. He jumps well and has a knack for scoring. He is a true slasher.”

Dellis said that he has been pleasantly surprised in the way in which back court mates Jon Sheets and Chase Fleming have been able to compliment each other’s games. Dellis said it was Sheets’ performance after center Kelib Thompson fouled out that was the difference in the Miners victory over James Logan in last weekend’s tournament.

“I assumed in the preseason (Sheets and Fleming) would split time, but they are both too good to keep off the floor,” Dellis said. “They are both quality enough shooters and selfless enough that they can play either spot in the back court, and that is a true gift.”

Dellis said that the Miners will battle with third-ranked Burbank (14-1), ninth-ranked Kennedy (9-6), and a Jesuit team that seems to be improving by leaps and bounds for the league championship. Dellis said that three straight home games in four days in mid-January will say a great deal about his squad’s chances.

“Our primary goal since the beginning has been to win the Metro League,” Dellis said. “With the seniors, what has impressed me the most is their composure. When the game is close, we won’t burp it away. We might get beat, but not because of mental mistakes.”

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